Boosting Hispanic Share of STEM Workforce Crucial for Economic Growth

As the young demographic grows, public-private partnerships are working to place Hispanic millennials in one of the country’s fastest-growing fields.

The Hon. Cecilia Muñoz
Kristoffer Triplaar, for National Journal
Janie Boschma
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Janie Boschma
Sept. 18, 2014, 9:26 a.m.

The de­mand for jobs in the fields of sci­ence, tech­no­logy, en­gin­eer­ing, and math is grow­ing and those areas are pro­jec­ted to add as many as 1 mil­lion jobs by 2022, ac­cord­ing to the Bur­eau of Labor Stat­ist­ics.

Con­nect­ing young His­pan­ics, one of the fast­est-grow­ing demo­graph­ic groups in Amer­ica, to those jobs is crit­ic­al to the suc­cess of Amer­ica’s role as a lead­ing in­nov­at­or—and also to the suc­cess of the eco­nomy.

“It’s not ac­tu­ally about al­tru­ism, it’s com­pletely about our eco­nom­ic fu­ture,” said Cecil­ia Muñoz, dir­ect­or of the White House Do­mest­ic Policy Coun­cil, at an At­lantic/Na­tion­al Journ­al event un­der­writ­ten by Mi­crosoft on His­pan­ic mil­len­ni­als in STEM fields on Thursday. “We can’t hope to have the kind of eco­nom­ic growth that the pres­id­ent is shoot­ing for, that we’re all aim­ing for, if we’re not ad­equately pre­par­ing the stu­dents who are com­ing up today.”

Minor­it­ies and wo­men are his­tor­ic­ally un­der­rep­res­en­ted in STEM fields. The His­pan­ic share of the U.S. work­force grew from 3 per­cent in 1970 to 15 per­cent in 2011, yet His­pan­ics only ac­coun­ted for 7 per­cent of the STEM work­force in 2011, ac­cord­ing to Census Bur­eau data.

The event also fea­tured a pan­el and an in­ter­view where the guest speak­ers agreed that boost­ing minor­ity and es­pe­cially His­pan­ic rep­res­ent­a­tion in STEM fields re­quires a hol­ist­ic ap­proach that sup­ports stu­dents from the be­gin­ning to the end of their edu­ca­tion.

There are a num­ber of areas where the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and the private sec­tor are fo­cus­ing their ef­forts to boost the par­ti­cip­a­tion of un­der­rep­res­en­ted groups.

Mun­oz said the ad­min­is­tra­tion will have achieved about 40 per­cent of its over­all goal in adding thou­sands of new teach­ers by the next two to three years. Part­ner­ing with 100 non­gov­ern­ment­al groups, they hope to add a total of 100,000 highly trained K-12 STEM teach­ers by 2020.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion also aims to in­crease stu­dent ex­pos­ure to STEM op­por­tun­it­ies by 50 per­cent and in­crease the num­ber of col­lege STEM gradu­ates by 1 mil­lion over the next dec­ade.

His­pan­ic stu­dents ac­count for 10 per­cent of bach­el­or’s de­grees in STEM awar­ded to U.S. res­id­ents an­nu­ally, ac­cord­ing to data from the Na­tion­al Sci­ence Found­a­tion, though they ac­count for about 17 per­cent of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion.

“That’s where the room for growth is,” Mun­oz said, “so we are in­vest­ing in ap­proaches with His­pan­ic-serving in­sti­tu­tions, for ex­ample, of high­er edu­ca­tion that are again mak­ing sure people are pre­pared to think about STEM pro­grams when they enter high­er edu­ca­tion, mak­ing sure that they get the sup­port that they need.”

Take Geor­gia Tech, for ex­ample, where pan­el­ist Ra­fael Bras is prov­ost and ex­ec­ut­ive vice pres­id­ent for aca­dem­ic af­fairs.

Geor­gia Tech ranked in the top 10 na­tion­wide for the num­ber of His­pan­ic gradu­ates with bach­el­or’s and mas­ter’s de­grees in en­gin­eer­ing in 2012. Bras at­trib­utes that ac­com­plish­ment to step­ping up their ef­forts across the board—in re­cruit­ment, stu­dent sup­port, ment­or­ship, and schol­ar­ships—in fos­ter­ing His­pan­ic stu­dents’ suc­cess by provid­ing them with “con­stant at­ten­tion.”

They also of­fer on­line AP courses in Geor­gia high schools, trans­fer­able for col­lege cred­it, to bet­ter pre­pare stu­dents for ad­vanced learn­ing in STEM areas.

“If the op­por­tun­ity is not there, we can make it,” Bras said.

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